Breath of fresh air at Nyayo and Kasarani stadiums

Amb Amina Mohamed

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amb Amina Mohamed (centre) witnesses the signing of MoU between SEI Africa Centre Director Dr Philip Osano (left) and Athletics Kenya President Jackson Tuwei at Nyayo National Stadium. 

Photo credit: Pool

Athletes and fans at Nyayo National Stadium and the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani can now breathe better quality air.

 This is after a recent installation of air sensors in the stadiums, in a partnership between the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Athletics Kenya.

 In a period of heightened climate action interventions globally, the two organisations have signed a Memorandum of Understanding which aims to create awareness on the need for clean air in Kenya’s sporting grounds.

 Speaking during the signing of the MoU at Nyayo stadium, SEI Africa Centre Director Dr Philip Osano said the collaboration will not only focus on the monitoring of air quality through the installation of sensors in selected stadiums but also in the training on the collection of air data and analysis of air pollution to inform decisions.

“We will undertake joint public awareness campaigns on the environment, including on air quality and climate change,” he said.

Using last year’s case of Nyanza Golf Club which was fully submerged following heavy rains, Dr Osano said the partnership’s efforts to control climate change hazards will soon be moving to the counties.

Sports and environment

“We are also working with the county governments of Nakuru and Mombasa on air quality monitoring for the health and wellbeing of citizens.”

SEI said it will continue leading research and capacity development activities and publications on sports and environment.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amb Amina Mohamed called on the global sports community to stand up and be counted as solution providers in the fight against environmental degradation.

“The data collected from these sensors will inform mitigation measures that will benefit all the users of these facilities in all sporting events,” she said.

Athletics Kenya, one of the member federations that were involved in the World Athletics’ pilot programme to measure and analyse air quality at sporting venues around the world, said the collection of data will help in determining the amount of quality air needed per sporting event.

“World Athletics’ Clean Air campaign is critical to achieving the agenda on clean air for all. Air pollution is a silent killer which is affecting the health of athletes, local communities and our environment,” said Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei said.

An air quality monitor was installed at Kasarani Stadium during the World Athletics U20 Championships in 2021 to assess the feasibility of maintaining high-end air quality devices in remote locations.

Apart from Kasarani and Nyayo National stadiums, Mr Tuwei said that more sensors will be installed at the Nairobi National Park and Karura Forest with two more devices supplied by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set to be installed on athletics tracks around Nairobi.

Real time data

"Athletes should be aware of the real time data on the air quality they are exposed to ahead of their training session," Mr Ngongang Wandji Danube Kirt, UNEP's technical air quality expert said.

Stadiums in Argentina, Ethiopia, Mexico, Australia and Japan have been installed with such sensors and Mr Tuwei hopes that "together we will help to improve air quality not only in stadiums but around the country.”

Air quality sensors work on the principle of measuring the reduction of infrared radiation in the air. The signal from the infrared detector is further amplified and then the attenuation of the radiation caused by the collision with carbon dioxide is analysed. The more the carbon dioxide, the more the infrared radiation is attenuated.

SEI said its work on air pollution in Kenya also involves collaboration with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) that is currently revising Kenya’s Air Quality Regulations (2014), the Kenya Meteorology Department on air pollution data, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the Ministry of Health on health impacts of pollution.

Global warming

“SEI also works closely with the University of Nairobi and community and resident associations, under the umbrella of Kenya Air Quality Network (KAQN), that we helped establish in 2016,” said Dr Osano.

This month, the Nairobi City County Assembly passed the Nairobi City Air Quality Bill, thanks to support from SEI and UNEP since March 2017.

A 2020 research report, Playing Against the Clock: Global Sport, the Climate Emergency and The Case for Rapid Change, authored by academic David Goldblatt, says that approximately half of the former winter Olympic host cities will likely not be able to sponsor winter games by 2050 due to a lack of snow and ice as the world keeps warming.

The organisers of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games wrote that “the warmest weather on record challenged our ability to prepare fields of play for athletes in the venues at Cypress Mountains.”

 "Sochi 2014 was warmer still. Many competitors complained about the lack of snow, and the slow, wet, heavy snow that was available was difficult to manoeuvre on.”